Michael Jackson dies: Twitter's good luck

Summary:Update: title changed to reflect developing news. Michael Jackson has died at aged 50.

Update: title changed to reflect developing news. Michael Jackson has died at aged 50.

Yes, yes and yes. The difference between citizen journalism and professional journalism is relatively simple: one isn't paid to report what they see and hear, and the other is trusted and paid accordingly to report what they see and hear.

Facebook and Twitter, on my end, are rife with comments, statuses and wall posts already stating that Michael Jackson could well be dead, whilst professional sources are not yet claiming such a thing (at time of posting, anyway). Here's the example I see on my screen:

Twitter is absolutely crazed with this news. Just by looking at my main feed of what everyone is talking about, it's awash with rumours, quotes and stories being banded round left, right and center. This makes me consider whether Twitter and similar engines are nothing more than rumour machines.

Two examples I have given before include the Hudson River plane crash and the terror arrests at a UK university. These were reported by citizen journalism before professional journalists got the chance to report. However, once they did, you saw the steady stream of information trickle out as accurate as it was. When you attempt to gain the credibility of some random person posting a thought on a public forum such as Twitter, it opens up the possibility of massive repercussions for others along the process.

Even at the moment, the BBC News channel is claiming that these comments on Twitter are "unconfirmed" and still stating only facts. But for the fact that they are still reporting unconfirmed reports from a public which it doesn't know, just goes to show the spread that social media has. However, the BBC are especially pointing out that at this moment in time, it is important to base news reports on facts alone, by using official sources and those not of Twitter. (23:10 BST).

From my perspective here, is regardless of whether Twitter, Facebook and other citizen-built online communities are right or wrong; only yesterday I would have said, in the wake of the aforementioned examples as well as those in Iran this past week, that Twitter is a brilliant way of keeping up to date with breaking news. Now, I'm not so sure. It doesn't matter whether he has passed or not, the amount of unconfirmed news spread in regards to this current event has put the reputation of social media into disrepute.

Update 1: one of my friends said, "a heart attack didn't kill Michael Jackson, it was Facebook status'".

Update 2: it is looking increasingly likely that Jackson has indeed died. Nevertheless, sad as it may well be, doesn't detract from my point. Statuses and tweets from hours ago have been stating that he had died. According to my benchmark, BBC News in London, stating that he died at around 15:20 PST. If this is the case, then how did people know before hand?

Update 3: my benchmark, BBC News in London, has confirmed it. See above point: still sticks.

Is Was Twitter lying? Are people taking advantage of public online spaces to spread their own gossip to perpetuate a rumour-mill society? Leave a comment and prove me otherwise.

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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